January 23


Running Plan for the Complete Beginner

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This is the second part of my series on how you can become a runner in as little as six weeks. You've got your heart rate monitor, you're full of motivation so you're good to go. If you missed part 1, you can read it here. Even if you're brand new, simply follow this beginner running plan and you'll be off in no time!


The complete beginner running plan - Phase 1 Training

Let's say you're a complete beginner aged 43 with a low base level of fitness. You'll probably need to start with phase 1 training by walking briskly. You should start with walks of 20-30 minutes. Using your heart rate monitor, adjust your pace so that your heart rate stays in the middle of your training zone (115-133bpm). Over the next few weeks, aim to extend the duration of your walks to around 45-60 minutes. As your aerobic fitness improves, you'll find that for any given walking pace, your heart rate becomes lower and lower. It will get to a point where even at a really brisk pace, it'll only be around the bottom of your training zone. This is the time to move on to phase 2.

The new runner with some basic fitness - Phase 2 of your running plan

You may find phase 2 a more appropriate starting point if you're already doing a little bit of aerobic training.

Perhaps you've been going to group fitness classes, walking, using the machines at the gym. Whether you're coming in at this point or moving on from phase 1, limit your session of mixed walking & jogging to around 20 minutes.

This is partly because you'll be working higher up in your training zone.

Also, you'll need to introduce your muscles and joints gradually to the running motion. Use the technique outlined in phase 1.

Once you can jog continuously for 20 minutes without continually overshooting the top of your training zone, it's time for phase 3.

Building up your beginner running plan in Phase 3

You'll now be consolidating your newfound running fitness and gradually extending your run distance. However, you should still limit your runs to 20 minutes for the first 2 weeks. This will allow your body to adapt and limit the chances of injury (see below). If all's well at this stage, you can add 2 minutes to your run duration each week for the next 4 weeks. This will bring you up to 30-minute sessions in 4 weeks.  During this time, you'll continue to train within your heart rate zone. As your fitness steadily climbs, you'll notice you'll be moving faster and faster while remaining within your training zone.

How quickly you progress through the phases will depend on a number of factors. For example, your base fitness level, exercise history, genetic makeup and so on. If you have a decent base level of fitness, 6-8 weeks is not unreasonable. A complete beginner with a low fitness base carrying some extra weight is more likely looking at 9-12 weeks. However, tackled this way, anyone who's otherwise healthy can transition from sedentary couch potato to runner safely and comfortably.

How often should a beginner plan to run?

In phase 1, three times a week is strongly recommended. In phase 2, three walking/jogging sessions will gain you the most rapid progress. However, if you do find you're getting a bit stiff and sore, walk/jog twice a week. Add a third session of a different type of aerobic exercise, like swimming, cycling or rowing. This also applies to phase 3.

Whatever you do, space your sessions out so that you don't train on two consecutive days.

This will reduce your injury risk and help keep you fresh.

For the same reason, running 4 or more times a week as a beginner is not recommended.

There would be no way to achieve this without running on two consecutive days at least once a week. Your beginner running plan should schedule plenty of rest

Where should I run? Beginner Running Plan Routes

Choose an out and back route. It's so much easier to run/jog/walk for 10 minutes out and 10 minutes back. Otherwise, you'd have to calculate your speed and work out a 20-minute circular route from there.

Look also for the flattest route you can and once with an even running surface. For each 1% of incline, you'll be working 15% harder. This would make it much harder to maintain your ideal training heart rate.

Finally, runners and cars don't mix - find a route that takes you away from heavy traffic. Some may solve all these problems by running on the treadmill. Treadmill running isn't for everyone though.

Compared to running outside, many people find treadmill running far less exciting. You don't get the satisfaction of actually covering ground that you get with running outdoors.

Monitoring changes in your body

As your fitness improves, monitoring the changes taking place can help reassure you that you are making progress. There are other signs to look out for which can indicate you're pushing too hard, too quickly:

Positive changes of running in beginners

  • Resting heart rate first thing in the morning, after you wake up. As you become fitter, your resting heart rate will drop.
  • Blood pressure. Even though you may start with a normal BP reading, improved aerobic fitness often leads to a drop in both systolic and diastolic pressure.
  • Waist and hip circumference. Running is a really good way of shedding excess weight. Expect to see your measurements shrink.
  • Blood cholesterol. Like all aerobic exercise, running will almost certainly lower your total blood cholesterol. It may also increase the protective good type (HDL) in your blood.
  • Oxygen uptake. Your lungs, heart, circulatory system and muscles become more efficient. They'll absorb, transport and use oxygen better. Your maximum oxygen uptake capacity improves. You may have heard this called your VO2max. You'll be able to work harder for longer and feel fresher. You'll notice how much more distance you can cover while remaining inside your heart rate training zone.
  • Reduced body fat and increased musculature. As you burn excess energy, you lose body fat and so your muscle definition will improve. Particularly in the legs.

Signs you may be overdoing it

By following the advice here, your risk of injury and over training will be extremely low. Even so, you may get carried away and overdo things. Here are some of the telltale warning signs indicating you need to back off. You might need to reduce your volume, intensity, or both.

  • Your resting heart rate starts to rise
  • Not feeling fully recovered between sessions
  • Persistent stiffness and soreness in your calves and hamstrings
  • You start to get niggly aches and pains in your joints, especially the knees
  • Suffering from more coughs, colds and other infections than usual
  • You begin to feel mentally tired and irritable
  • A reduced appetite

Giving it a go? Leave a comment and let me know how you're getting on.

About the author

Paul Stokes

Paul Stokes BSc (Hons) is a Certified Personal Trainer, Accredited Sports Nutritionist, qualified Exercise to Music Instructor, Precision Nutrition coach, Massage Therapist and teaches 8 of the Les Mills Group Exercise programs.

He currently works in the Oil & Gas industry as a Wellness Coach, imparting his vast knowledge and experience to improve the quality of life of several hundred offshore workers.

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